Families Belong Together

Incarcerated children suffer harmful, often traumatic, effects to their emotional and mental health. More than 10,000 immigrant children are incarcerated as a result of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. Educators and their community allies are using their voice to demand our government stop incarcerating children.  


All students have the right to a free public K-12 education in this country regardless of their immigration status. NEA is actively engaged in numerous efforts to protect and advance that right and to ensure that all schools provide a welcoming and supportive environment to their entire school community. In recent months, many NEA members have been approached by students who are anxious about the termination of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and aggressive immigration enforcement.

Read the full advisory for NEA members, on legal parameters for educators to consider in safely and effectively advocating for immigrant students’ rights.

In addition, the NEA, together with Education-Austin, has developed a PowerPoint training for educators that details how we can support immigrant students and their families:

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Additional Information:

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Do Not Punish Innocent Children

Immigration issues are complicated. But some things are simple. Since the beginning of the immigration debate, the National Education Association has fought for a framework that has to include three simple things:

  • Do not punish children for decisions they didn’t make.
  • Do not separate families.
  • Provide a trusted path to citizenship for immigrant Dreamers.

The Center for American Progress released an issue brief in July 2018 detailing how Trump’s family detention plans would be detrimental to children’s mental, physical, and emotional health. As we continue to see the chaotic and slow reunifications of young children with their parents, this analysis makes it clear that “detention centers are not suitable or humane places for parents to care for their children.”

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Historic teach-in to end Trump’s incarceration of immigrant children energizes teachers

By Félix Pérez

Sarahí Monterrey’s daughters felt unsettled about the trip that would take their mom 1,600 miles from them and their daily routines together. Monterrey comforted them by counting aloud — “one, two” — the number of nights before she returned.

“Mommy’s going to help and be a voice for children,” she explained.

Reassurances to her children aside, Monterrey, the 2019 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year, was not quite sure what to expect at last month’s national teach-in in El Paso, Texas. But when she met another teacher on her outbound flight to the daylong event, the chance run-in reinforced her decision.

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The goal of Monterrey, other Teachers of the Year, fellow educators, community leaders, and students is to raise awareness and demand an end to the Trump administration’s incarceration of more than 11,000 immigrant toddlers, children, and teens, some as young as 5 months old. The event was organized by Teachers Against Child Detention, a group founded by Mandy Manning, the 2018 National Teacher of the Year.

Sarahí Monterrey

There have been more than 4,500 complaints from October 2014 to July 2018 about sexual abuse of incarcerated immigrant children by adult staff, including fondling, kissing, and rape, the U.S. Justice Department revealed last week. The complaints spiked when the Trump administration hastily introduced its “zero tolerance” policy of separating migrant families at the border.

In December, two children — a 7-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy — died from illness while detained.

Monterrey, an English Learner teacher at Waukesha North High School, gathered with the other educators on a mostly sunny and brisk day less than half a mile from the U.S.-Mexico border. They took turns delivering lesson blocks related to immigration and immigrant children, including one about long-lasting emotional trauma caused by incarceration and family separation.

Monterrey said:

“To feel the energy, the camaraderie that day, was very powerful. It wasn’t a protest, it wasn’t a march. It was an opportunity to educate others.”

Monterrey added, “I am very passionate that we as educators can be a voice. It’s in our DNA. If not us, then who?”

During her lesson block at the teach-in, Monterrey recounted her experience coming to the United States from El Salvador as a young child. She drew upon an incident that occurred this past summer with her 5-year-old at a local pool to underscore the harm inflicted on separated children. “I went to get a towel and could see the panic in her eyes when she turned around and didn’t see me. That was one split second that my daughter was separated from me. I can’t imagine what these children are feeling who are separated from their families for months.”

Monterrey used her trip as an opportunity to engage the female students in a club she created at her school called Girl Talk. They collected books to donate to children in detention centers. The students wrote an inspirational note for each book.

For Monterrey and the others involved in the teach-in, each is determined to continue to raise awareness and serve as advocates in their schools and communities until detained immigrant children are no longer exposed to conditions that harm and traumatize them. Among the changes they seek:

  • The U.S. government must never separate children from their parents.
  • Immigrant children must receive at least six hours of language-appropriate classroom instruction every school day.
  • Detention centers must be open to visits by doctors, teachers, social workers, clergy, and other children’s advocates.

Monterrey said her students, friends, and community “have been so supportive and eager” to learn about her teach-in experience. She sees those types of conversations – in schools, churches, communities and among families in town after town — as crucial in dispelling inaccurate information and seeing immigrant children “no differently than our children, our students.”

Are you ready to help put an end to the incarceration of immigrant children and family separations? Become a member the NEA EdJustice League, a rapid response text program where we organize to win.






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I am going to the border. Here’s why

June 23, 2018
By Lily Eskelsen García
President of the National Education Association

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”-Bishop Desmond Tutu

On Sunday, June 24, I am going to Tornillo, Texas on the Mexican border, where Donald Trump has jailed innocent children. As an elementary teacher, as president of a union of educators dedicated to nurturing every student, as a mother, and as a Latina, I must bear witness to Donald Trump’s unimaginable cruelty and inexplicable inhumanity to children.

Any parent knows the panic of momentarily losing a child in the store, and most of us can remember being children ourselves and feeling the terror sweep over us when we can’t find Mom or Dad. That is after only a few minutes of separation. This what these tender-aged children, separated from parents who are seeking asylum, are feeling for weeks or months.  The terror these parents and their little ones are experiencing must be unbearable. 

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Even if the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other respected organizations had not issued statements about how damaging such family separations are, members of the NEA understand child development. We know that this is causing irreparable emotional and physical trauma to these boys and girls.

Our outrage is even more acute because all of this—every second of terror, fright, and worry in the lives of these children and parents—results from an intentional policy. A choice Donald Trump made.

We have heard this cruel administration and its enablers refer to child prisons like the one in Tornillo as ‘summer camps’ or ‘boarding schools.’  No one is fooled. Such ridiculous comparisons and asinine justifications simply increase our outrage at their callous, hateful treatment of desperate children. Summer camp is not a jail. This is a jail for children.

Don’t let Trump pull the wool over your eyes with his executive order to “end family separation.” To actually do that, the administration must end the zero-tolerance policy. As long as the prosecution of parents continues, family separation continues. Furthermore, the administration has created no plan to reunite the thousands of children separated from their parents.

I think the Stoneman Douglas students said it best, when speaking about their own tragedy: We appreciate thoughts and prayers, but they are not going to be enough. Our thoughts and prayers are certainly with these separated, incarcerated children. However, it will take much more for us to repair the damage and end this Trump-made disaster.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”-Desmond Tutu

We must act!

We must find every politician who’s running for office at any level and demand to know if they are going to protect families from Zero-Compassion policies. These children can’t vote, but we can. And we will!

This terrible tragedy is of Donald Trump’s making, but just as it takes a village to raise a child, it took a particular Trumpian village to imprison these children and then justify it. It took the complicity of people around him who were willing to do his bidding. They created the blueprint to enact his horrible policy and then blithely defended him and themselves.

History will judge and condemn those who separated families and incarcerated children. Toddlers. Babies. The names of their jailers will forever be recorded in the worst chapters of the American story—a story that belongs to each of us, a story that we write with the actions we take, as well as those we fail to take. The culprits will surely be remembered. And so, my friends, will we.

Yes, it took a twisted village to create this crisis. But we will be the village to save these children and families. We will not fail them and we will not lose. We will not abandon any of these blessed children.

If we do not act now, then when will we? The question is no longer, “Who is Donald Trump?” It is: “Who are we?”

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U.S. has moral obligation to protect beneficiaries of Temporary Protected Status

In January 2018, the Trump administration announced its reckless decision to terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for about 200,000 Salvadorans, effectively putting at risk of deportation thousands of families who have legally worked and resided in the United States for decades.

TPS allows immigrants from other countries to live and work in the United States due to war or natural disasters in their home countries. The Trump administration ended TPS protection for Haitian and Nicaraguan immigrants in November 2017.

Many Salvadorans fled during the country’s decade-long civil war, which saw deliberate terrorizing of civilians by “death squads,” targeted executions, and widespread violations of human rights — most perpetrated by the US-backed and supplied Salvadoran military.

“Those who benefit from the TPS program are our friends, neighbors, and, yes, our students. They fled some of the world’s most dangerous places and survived some of the worst natural disasters,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “They deserve the protection and the ability to stay in our country and continue to contribute to our nation’s economic well-being.”

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Educators step up their defense of students as immigration raids escalate

By Kate Snyder

Immigrant students and their families are confronting a variety of challenges as raids across the country by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement not only escalate but place a greater focus on non-criminals. To help educators develop strategies to advocate for these students, the Tennessee Education Association recently hosted a racial justice training.

NEA EdJustice had the opportunity to talk to Genny Petschulat, a training participant and kindergarten teacher in the Metro-Nashville area, about the current climate for immigrants, the role of educators as advocates, and how trainings help support the resistance efforts.

EdJustice: Since January ICE raids have increased nationwide. Nashville was in the news recently for a related reason. Can you tell us about the situation?

Genny: In Nashville a climate of fear has taken hold in many of our communities. We are home of the nation’s largest Kurdish population, as well as sizable numbers from other countries such as Somalia, Sudan, Egypt, Eretria, Bhutan, Iraq, Mexico, Honduras and dozens and dozens of other countries.


Take Action

Incarceration of Immigrant Children

Pledge to call on the U.S. government to end the detention and criminalization of immigrant children and their families!

Sign the Pledge



Tools for Educators

Resources include a PowerPoint training for educators seeking to support immigrant students and their families, and a series of NEA "Know Your Rights" guides on DACA, schools and immigration.

Learn More

Safe Zone Schools

Find out how to make your schools and school districts Safe Zones for immigrant students. View an interactive map to see which school districts have passed or are considering Safe Zones policies.

Put Your School District on the Map

ACLU: 'We Have Rights'

The ACLU has a series of videos based on true stories offering advice on what to do when ICE is outside our doors, in our homes, stops us in our communities, and/or arrests us.

Watch the Videos